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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (4/?)
133 Waterbrook Lane
The diorama sat forlornly on the kitchen table, just as Kira described. Inside it a pink construction paper pig gazed up at a dangling yarn spider. Scully picked up a sheet of notebook paper and perused the painstakingly neat cursive, lips quirking at Claire's passionate diatribe against the butchering of pigs.
"Does she realize that this would mean no more bacon with her scrambled eggs?"
"Claire hasn't touched bacon or ham since she discovered that book." Grey chuffed. "Kira's worried she'll read one about a calf next. She says she can't cope with a vegetarian."
Scully moved down the short hallway toward Claire's bedroom, relieved to see a bit of Grey's spark return. He'd been uncharacteristically silent on the drive to Kira's house, and she'd taken Mulder's lead and let him be. Whatever had passed between him and Kira had left him drained and subdued.
Claire's room was an eclectic mish-mash of little girl and big girl, princess and tomboy. *NSync and The Little Mermaid posters hung side by side, and American Girl dolls shared shelf space with baseballs and a catcher's mitt. Mulder stood in front of a large window that overlooked the backyard.
He startled, one hand jerking reflexively to the gun at his hip. Scully skirted the twin bed to stand by his side.
"'S okay. That's what I get for woolgathering." He smiled down at her but something dark lurked behind his eyes.
"Are you all right?"
"Just a little tired. Grey wasn't the only one who didn't sleep much last night." His eyes neatly dodged hers. "Did you check the power?"
Scully let it slide, well aware that little girl rooms held bittersweet memories for her partner. "We checked the cables and the fuses. There was a coat of dust an inch thick on the fuse box, and the lines were all intact. The ground around the meter is still soft from the rain they had a few days ago. It would be impossible for the kidnapper not to leave footprints." She sighed. "Just as there are no prints in the ground outside this window or any other. And absolutely no marks to indicate forced entry."
"Nor are there signs of a struggle." Mulder gestured toward the unmade bed. "The sheets and blanket are still tucked in. Nothing was knocked over or broken. The books, toys--everything appears to be in place."
Scully walked over to the nightstand and lifted the framed photo of a dark-haired man with intense brown eyes. "There's a logical answer to that, Mulder. Claire may well have gone willingly--if the kidnapper was her father."
Mulder chewed his lip. "Kira's convinced it's not Talbot."
"And Grey is equally convinced that it is. Neither one is operating with objectivity. They're both too emotionally invested."
"You'll get no argument from me on that."
But his eyes wandered back to the window, their darkness more pronounced.
"Mulder. What are you thinking?"
His lips twisted into something that was more grimace than smile. "You don't want to know."
The edge of anguish in his voice surprised her. "Of course I do."
He hesitated for a moment, contemplating her face, then jerked his thumb at the window. "Did you notice the trees?"
Mystified, she joined him and peered out the glass. A line of tall fir trees marked the eastern border of Kira's yard, their tops singed in a disturbingly familiar pattern. Scully's stomach dropped to her toes.
"Have you looked at the clocks?" Before she could turn her head he plowed on, voice tight and defensive. "I'll spare you the trouble--they're all nine minutes slow."
Scully folded her arms with a shake of her head. "Mulder, you're not... Are you suggesting that Claire was abducted by aliens?"
He looked away, jaw clenched.
"Slow down a minute and think about this. Grey called us in because he trusts us. He's counting on your profiling skills to catch a kidnapper. You can't do this to him. You can't make this into an X-File."
Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Do you really believe I want that, Scully? You think it's my choice? What the hell am I supposed to think if the only evidence I have points in that direction?"
"What direction?" Grey stood in the doorway, eyebrows knit together as his focus shifted between their faces. "What evidence?"
Scully's fingers dug into Mulder's forearm. "Nothing concrete. We really haven't had much more luck than forensics did."
Grey shook his head, stepping closer. His eyes locked onto his brother's face. "Don't bullshit me. What evidence, Fox?"
Mulder stared at a point just past Grey's left shoulder, unable to meet the intensity of his gaze. "Scully's right. I've seen nothing to indicate that someone broke into this house and took Claire by force."
"But you have seen something you think is significant. It's written all over your face. What is it?"
"It's nothing concrete. I need time to..."
Grey crossed the room in three strides until he was in Mulder's face. "Don't. I told you up front that I won't be brushed aside. If you've found something--anything--you think is important, then I want to know about it."
Mulder swallowed, then looked directly at his brother for the first time. "There's no evidence that a man kidnapped Claire from this house. But there is evidence she was taken."
Grey's face went blank with confusion. "What are you saying? That she was kidnapped by a woman?"
Scully watched Mulder's fingers curl into fists as he braced himself to deliver the bomb. "Grey, what evidence I've found points to abduction. Alien abduction."
Grey blew out a puff of air, half snort, half laugh, catching himself when Mulder's face remained stony. "You're not serious?"
"I wouldn't joke about this."
"You..." Grey's face flushed and he spun on his heel. He paced across the room and back again, one hand raking through his hair. "I can't believe this. I understand if you have reservations about Talbot, but this..."
Mulder worked hard to keep his voice calm and even. "Listen to me. You have no physical evidence to corroborate a kidnapping. On the other hand, I can cite multiple signs consistent with alien abduction."
Grey's expression twisted into a sneer. "What--you saw little green men hiding in the woods? There's a spaceship parked around the corner?"
Mulder visibly flinched and Scully stepped forward. "Stop it, Grey. You wanted to know what Mulder found. Let him tell you."
Grey laced his arms across his chest, eyes frigid. "Fine. I'm listening."
Mulder took a deep breath. "The trees out there have heat damage. All the clocks in the house are exactly nine minutes slow. There was an interruption of the electricity last night." He ticked the items off, one finger at a time.
"Each one of those could have a completely ordinary explanation."
"Maybe so. But taken together, they point to something extraordinary."
Grey glared at his brother for a long moment, then turned on Scully. "You agree with him?"
Scully looked up into Mulder's eyes; saw him braced for rejection. She turned a cool gaze on Grey. "I believe in Mulder's abilities as an agent. And I've seen too much to dismiss alien abduction as impossibility. If Mulder thinks that avenue warrants further investigation, then I think you should pay attention to him."
The tension that leaked out of Mulder's body was palpable. Scully surreptitiously hooked her little finger through his and squeezed.
Grey turned away, speaking through gritted teeth. "You two want to chase flying saucers? Fine. Just don't ask me to follow. I'm going to check in with the guys at the station, see if there's any word on Talbot. I'll be in the car."
The stricken expression on Mulder's face made Scully's throat ache. Without letting go of his fingers she reached up with her free hand to cradle his jaw, thumb sweeping across his cheek.
"Give him a chance, love. This is all pretty new to him." She lifted an eyebrow. "It took me years to reach this point."
It was obvious his heart wasn't in his smile. "You were a tough sell, all right."
She dropped her hand and started for the door, pulled up short when Mulder didn't follow. "Mulder?"
"I'd like to poke around here a bit longer, maybe talk to a few neighbors."
"You want me to tell Grey to go ahead?"
He shook his head. "No, I want you to go with him." He lifted a hand to stall her protest. "The rest of the forensic analysis should be coming through. You'll know best whether anything needs to be sent on to the Bureau. And I...I could use a little time, Scully."
She hesitated; nodded. "All right. I'll come back and pick you up in about an hour."
"Make it an hour and a half and you've got a deal." He must have read some emotion in her face because he leaned in and brushed a kiss across her lips. "I'm okay, Scully."
He wandered into the living room, standing in the shadows and watching through the large picture window as Scully climbed into the car and spoke to Grey. His brother glanced up at the house, distance rendering his expression unreadable, before throwing the car into gear and pulling out of the driveway.
Mulder let himself out the back door and walked across the yard. He stared up at the crisped treetops, trying hard to banish the sick feeling that had settled in his chest from the moment he'd noticed them. As desperately as he'd searched for proof of extraterrestrial life, now he hoped with equal fervor not to find it.
He propped his hands on his hips and dropped his head, closing his eyes against the image of Grey's face. Disbelief. Anger. Scorn. It was the last that cut the deepest, left him raw and aching. Scully was right; it had taken her years to accept the most extreme of possibilities. But from the very beginning she'd respected the journey. He'd never looked in her eyes and seen...
He shook his head and turned away to scan the rest of the yard. A large wooden sandbox sat in the shade of an oak tree. The canvas tarp meant to cover it was askew, a bright yellow handle peeking out from beneath. Mulder moved close enough to tug the canvas completely off. It was riddled with scorch marks--burned completely through in spots. He bit down hard on his lip when he saw what lay beneath.
What had once been a collection of sand toys were now brightly colored but barely recognizable blobs. Mulder crouched and picked up what must once have been a green pail, now a lopsided puddle of plastic. Heart pounding, he stirred the sand with his finger, uncovering small, polished lumps of glass.
"Mind telling me what you're doing there?"
Mulder jumped, nearly falling on his butt before he regained his balance and stood. An elderly woman with snow-white hair stood on the patio of the house to the left of Kira's. She shaded her eyes against the sun, scowling at him.
Mulder walked toward her, pulling his ID from his pocket. "I'm FBI--Agent Fox Mulder."
To his surprise, the woman's blue eyes brightened and a smile replaced the scowl. "So you're Claire's Uncle Fox! My name is Cordelia Logan, but everyone just calls me Corrie. I've heard an earful about you."
He knew there was a stunned expression on his face, but couldn't seem to remove it. "You have?"
"Goodness, yes. Uncle Fox the FBI agent. Uncle Fox who lives in Washington, D.C. Uncle Fox who taught her to hit a baseball." She chuckled softly. "She's such a little thing, at first I thought she must've gotten your name wrong. Imagine my surprise when Kira told me she was right."
Mulder tucked the ID back into his pocket. "You know Claire is missing."
All the merriment left the old woman's face. "Yes. I saw the commotion yesterday morning and came over to see if Kira was all right. The police questioned me, of course, but I'm afraid I wasn't much help."
"Would you mind if I asked you a couple questions?"
"Agent Mulder, my husband and I were never blessed with children. That little girl is the closest thing to a granddaughter I'll ever have. I'd do anything to help find her."
"The night before last, the night Claire disappeared, did you see or hear anything unusual?"
Corrie's face crinkled with regret. "I wish I had. It was a very quiet, very normal night. When the power kept flickering, Sam--that's my husband--and I turned off the television and took the dog for a walk. The neighborhood was quiet, peaceful."
"What time was that?"
"Oh, I don't know. About nine-thirty, ten o'clock?"
"And there were no strange cars, nobody you passed that you didn't recognize?"
She shook her head. "We didn't see a single soul. Everyone was inside, I guess. A real shame too, since it was a beautiful evening. We stood out front for almost half an hour watching the meteor shower."
Mulder's breath caught. "Meteor shower?"
She waved a wrinkled hand. "Well, that's what I'd call it. I'm certainly no expert on such things."
"What did it look like?"
"Just a lot of bright lights in the sky, darting and swooping. At first we thought they were planes, but then Sam decided they must be meteors, falling to earth. It was fascinating." She sighed. "But I've gotten off on a tangent, haven't it? Meteor showers aren't going to help you find little Claire."
"No, you've been very helpful. Thank you for your time." Mulder pushed the words past numb lips.
Corrie patted his arm. "I'm sure I haven't, but you're sweet to say so. You tell Kira she and Claire are in my prayers, will you?"
"I... Yes, I'll tell her."
Mulder stumbled back to Kira's house on wooden legs. He sat down on the cement steps, pulling his trenchcoat more tightly to his shivering body. But the chills that tingled up and down his spine had little to do with the chill March air.
"Not again." He dropped his face into his hands as tears burned his cheeks. "My God, I can't do this again."